“Yeah, but when will I actually use this in the real world?”: Making Relevance Visible, One Angle at a Time

If you have taught even a day, you’ve probably been on the receiving end of the the sometimes-sincere, sometimes-snarky question: “When will we actually use this in real life?”  Math teachers probably have heard this more than most, and we are lucky to have faculty in our math department at St. Andrew’s that are ready with answers. Math, after all, is everywhere . . . in the exchange of goods for money in a store, in the designs that underlay the construction of a bridge, in the stock market that shapes our economy. David Bramlett recently engaged his Pre-Calculus students in an angle of elevation activity that proved that math is, quite literally, all around us.  

Youth enrolled in Dr. Bramlett’s Precalculus course work together to capture and label angles around campus with the help of the Angle 360 app.

In this activity, students applied what they learned about angles of elevation and the trigonometric functions to calculate the height of various objects. The students set out across campus in groups of 3-5, and with the aid of the Angle Meter 360 App they took pictures on their phones capturing the angle of elevation from a classmate’s feet to the top of the object. At the same time, other students in the group measured the distance from the object to the classmate’s feet.  The students then imported their photos to a word processor to create a properly labeled right triangle and solve using trigonometric functions. The task was completed with each group making a lab report of their results.

Next time a student asks you, “What does this have to do with real life?” take a nod from David.  Ask them to find out for themselves. They may find that angles lurk in our very own plaza, that rhetoric underlies politicking, that to understand culture today you have to understand culture yesterday.  In fact, I have more than a sneaking suspicion that this particular reality-steeped version of inspiration and innovation is happening all over the place in St. Andrew’s classrooms. I’ve borne witness to it.   I saw it last week when Marty Kelly started class with a snippet from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat to ensure that students see the far-reaching intertextuality of Old Testament stories.  I saw it when Margaret Clark made connections to Latin vocabulary and words in the English language.  I saw it just a few days ago when Harriet Whitehouse asked her sixth graders compose graphic novels to highlight the elements of “the hero’s journey” that lurk within popular books, movies, or video games.

What do you do in your classroom to bring content alive? Feel free to share ideas in comments below!

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